Walk The Walk: 10K Steps Per Day Challenge Promotes Weight Loss And Fitness, But Is It Realistic?

Man and woman walking
Taking 10,000 steps or more a day is considered to be part of an “active lifestyle,” but is it physically possible? Beverley Goodwin, CC BY 2.0

In the digital age, completing work, school, and home activities has become contingent on technology. Laptops, smartphones, and tablets have promoted an increasingly sedentary, indoor lifestyle versus an active one outdoors. According to recent studies, increasing your walking to 10,000 steps per day, or 5 miles, encourages a healthy lifestyle that can offset the effects of sedentary behavior, but is that goal realistic?

Pedometers And The 10,000 Steps Per Day Challenge

Activity trackers and pedometers have started to grow in popularity alongside the 10,000 steps per day challenge. These fitness trackers encourage you to undergo such a lengthy endeavor, but the recommendation hardly holds scientific merit. The origins of 10,000 steps a day dates back to the 1960s in Japan, where pedometers were marketed under the name “manpo-kei,” or “10,000 steps meter,” according to a 2004 study published in the journal Sports Medicine. This idea gained popularity with Japanese walking groups, but is it sustainable for all groups?

Michael Zieminski, a master trainer at Technogym, says stride length is about 2.5 feet long. This means it takes over 2,000 steps to walk one mile, and 10,000 steps to walk 5 miles. A 2010 study published in the journal Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise found Americans only took 5,117 steps a day. In western Australia, that number was about 9,700, while in Switzerland it was 9,650, and in Japan it was 7,168. The researchers were surprised Americans were that sedentary, considering less than 5,000 steps a day translates into an inactive lifestyle.

How To Get To 10,000 Steps Per Day

With the increasing use of technology, clocking in 10,000 steps a day through daily activity can be a real challenge, unless you have an active job, such as being a waitress or nurse. However, using a pedometer can help facilitate the process since it measures your steps and not your speed. “How a pedometer does help is by giving you the total number of steps per day,” Zieminski told Medical Daily in an email. “Here is your personal challenge to minimally match each day’s steps, beat your daily steps on other days, or simply set your goal and attain it."

Realistically, 5 miles is a lot of walking for a person who may not exercise or move much. However, you can build up to walking 10,000 miles, according to Zieminski. To hit this goal in a workout session, Zieminski recommends walking 3 miles per hour to achieve 1 mile in 20 minutes. However, for those who do not have the time to walk an hour and 40 minutes, he recommends people living in cities get off the subway "one or two stops earlier, park in the furthest parking spot, take a walk on your lunch break, or take the stairs. They all add up.”

Walking 10,000 steps is associated with being physically active, but are there any health benefits?

The Health Benefits Of Walking 10,000 Steps

Long periods of walking have been known to provide many benefits for both men and women. A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found walking 10,000 steps a day had a significant impact on body fat and waist and hip measurements when compared to walking 6,000 steps a day. Women who averaged more than 10,000 steps were 4 to 6 inches narrower in their waist and hip measurements and had 40 percent less body fat than subjects who averaged less than 6,000 steps.

Doing 10,000 steps per day not only helps with weight management but it can also help reduce blood pressure in women. A 2000 study published in the journal Hypertension Research found walking 10,000 steps per day or more is effective in lowering blood pressure, increasing exercise capacity, and even reducing sympathetic nerve activity in hypersensitive patients — regardless of exercise intensity or duration. Participants' blood pressure dropped after just 24 weeks of the 10,000 steps per day program.

These circumstances are not applicable to everyone considering a people's average daily steps vary from city to city and state to state. Moreover, you don’t need to feel like you have to achieve 10,000 steps to be deemed physically active. The idea behind the 10,000 steps a day challenge is to encourage people to get up and get started.

It’s important to count every step you take for your health whether it’s 10,000 or 3,000.

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